Puffin Fratercula arctica, pair engaging in communication and bonding, one with beak wide open in backlighting, Skomer, Pembrokeshire

How birds live together

Communication is the key to survival for many birds.

Understanding each other helps birds to find food and avoid danger.

Safety in numbers

Many birds live closely together. Some, such as starlings, travel in flocks, others, such as gannets, nest in dense colonies. This is an adaptation for survival. Flocks offer safety in numbers, since each individual is safer from predators. Birds that roost together help to preen each other. Some, such as long-tailed tits, also huddle together for warmth.

Know your neighbour

Many birds send signals with their markings. The bright yellow bars on the wings of goldfinches flash when they take off. This warns other birds of danger and also helps the flock to stick together in flight.

Know your partner

Thousands of gannets share one crowded breeding colony. Each pair has its own tiny square of territory, which it defends from all others. When a gannet returns from a fishing trip, it recognises its partner’s call and flies straight back. But if it lands in the wrong place, it gets a barrage of pecks from its unhappy neighbours.

Know your place

Watch birds at a bird table to see how different species behave. Some, such as starlings, barge in noisily. Others, such as coal tits, wait their turn patiently. Some species always give way to others: for instance, house sparrows give way to greenfinches, and dunnocks give way to robins. 

Each species feeds in its own time. This system is called a pecking order. It prevents fights, which are both dangerous and a waste of precious feeding time.

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus, pair fighting over territory, Martin Mere, Lancashire